Don't ask me how we got started on the Florida Scrub Jay. It is a long story and only sounds sensible when drunk on the heady liquor of vacation planning. I may as well tell you right now that we never saw a single scrub jay, but we saw almost every other kind of bird imaginable, even one that is extinct (the dusky seaside sparrow, stuffed and mounted).
Steve, Liz and myself left frigid Asheville, NC, on December 30, 1999 in our rented 1999 Mercury Villager. We christened it The Cruisemobile; my cat who was riding with us performed a christening ceremony of her own. After a brief stop to drop the carsick kitty off at Mom's house, we drove and drove and drove and didn't stop until we crossed the Florida state line where I ignored the stern fruit and vegetable vehicle inspection signs (I never saw a place to pull over, I swear) and pulled into Fort Clinch State Park just before dark. Not having a tent of my own, I had borrowed one from my brother Pete. Liz requested that I make camp upwind since Pete was apparently lax about airing out his tent the last time he used it. Thus it became the Stinky Pete Tent. Didn't bother me any.
We got up early-ish on the 31st and put out at the kayak-friendly beach by our campsite. Fort Clinch is at the very north end of Amelia Island, Florida and unless it is very very foggy (like it was when we woke up), you can see Cumberland Island, Georgia from the beach. Our plan was to paddle to the back side of Cumberland and that's exactly what we did once the fog lifted. Despite the Cumberland Queen's attempts to swamp us with its wake (a pox on the inconsiderate ruffian that skippered that ferry!) we made it to Sea Camp dock in 100 minutes and got to see dolphins on the way.
Later we docked at Dungeness Wharf and spent a fine day walking on the island. We have been to Cumberland before but this was the first time I visited the south end of the island so I had a good time checking out the ruins of Dungeness.
It's not every day you get a chance to paddle to another state before lunchtime. We paddled back to Florida by the light of the fin-de-siecle sunset and got back in time for dinner. We used the last of the daylight to scout out a location for a late night launch so we could be on the water at Midnight 2000. The oceanside access inside the state park is very inhospitable to kayaks. There's an extremely long carry over a boardwalk and then there's the jetties that extend seaward off of Amelia and Cumberland Islands to contend with. No fun.
So 11:30 PM on New Year's Eve found us on the public beach in front of Sandy Bottoms Bar and Grill where the party was hitting on all eight cylinders. Who knows, there might well have been scrub jays partying with them but it was too dark to see. The jukebox thundered Lynyrd Skynyrd and the smell of Budweiser mixed with the salt spray in the air as we carried our kayaks to the beach. We launched into black surf on which glittered the light of the tiki torches and cigarettes glowing behind us.
It was quite an experience paddling into waves we couldn't see. Once we were safely past the breakers, the view from the water was great. We could see three different sets of fireworks including a brief but intense fusillade on the beach right in front of us. At midnight I pulled a bottle of champagne from under my skirt and we rang in the new millenium in style. We didn't forget to pour a drink to Posiedon and he rewarded us with bioluminescent dinoflagellates. "Huh?" you say. These tiny little critters live in the sea eating God only knows what. The cool thing about them is that when you disturb them, say by paddling a kayak, they light up with a brief blue-green glow like miniature ocean-dwelling fireflies. It was like paddling through inky magic.
We were glad to see that the onshore lights didn't go out at midnight, and equally glad that the crowd in Sandy Bottoms didn't break into Auld Lang Syne. Civilization was still intact! We headed back in, snapped a few pix on the beach and headed off to bed.
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